In May, counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann kindly allowed me to preview his organization chart for al Qaeda in Iraq. Mr. Kolhmann has updated the chart and again forwarded it to me for review.
The May version of the organizational chart contained 42 individuals. At the time, 10 were listed as killed, 18 captured and 14 wanted. Eight “brigades” and three brigade leaders were identified.
Since the release of the May version, three more lieutenants, Abdullah Abu Azzam, Suleiman Darwash and Abu Talha were killed or captured. This equates to three-quarters of the known al Qaeda command structure being removed from the battlefield. The senior commanders and brigade leaders, including Zarqawi, Abu Abdelrahman al-Iraqi (deputy commander), Abu Usaid al-Iraqi (military commander), and Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi (media director) remained on the run.
The new version of Mr. Kolhmann’s organizational chart contains 46 members. There are now thirteen brigades, of which five the commanders are identifiable. Twelve members in the outer ring (the “middle managers” ) have been killed and seven captured, This is over two-fifths of the organization’s leaders killed or captured. Again, Zarqawi and the senior command remain untouched.
There are some discrepancies between the two lists, as some members on the prior list were dropped and some of those killed or captured in the May list remained. However, it remains an excellent representation of al Qaeda in Iraq’s leadership. A cursory look at the graphic shows al Qaeda’s middle management, their commanders which equate to their generals or colonels in the field, have had an inordinately high attrition rate. These are experienced commanders who are experienced in daily operations, and are difficult to replace. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior command has been immune to the hardships encountered by their subordinates, however.
There has been much debate since the death of Abdullah Abu Azzam. The Coalition stated he was al Qaeda in Iraq’s second in command, however several experts including Mr. Kolhmann, refute this. A look at the background of Azzam shows he was a significant figure in the organization, and his status as commander of Anbar province and his direction of operations in Baghdad underlines this point.
When Zarqawi was believed to be on his deathbed, Abdullah Abu Azzam along with Suleiman Darwash and Abu Talha were touted as being potential successors. It is a mistake to view al Qaeda as a strictly hierarchical organization. The status and power of it members often rises and falls based on their prowess in fighting jihad. Much of al Qaeda’s organizational structure is deliberately kept secret. See Dan Darling’s post at Winds of Change for more on this topic.
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